Tuesday, December 31, 2013

San Francisco Street Sighting - 1958 Packard Hawk

Today marks the final day of another year. For the last post of a dying year, let's examine the last gasp of a dying brand. This is a 1958 Packard Hawk.

In 1954, Packard entered into a deal to purchase Studebaker. It seemed like an odd combination but Studebaker wanted the luxury carmaker's money and Packard wanted Studebaker's mass-market dealership network. The ultimate plan was to merge Packard, Studebaker, Nash and Hudson to form a larger conglomerate that would have been competitive with the Big Three, but it was not to be. When the big merger fell through, Studebaker-Packard Corporation and Nash-Kelvinator/Hudson, now American Motors, were left to struggle by themselves. American Motors shed the Nash and Hudson brands, relying on the new Rambler marque and a focus on economy. Studebaker-Packard attempted to cover both ends of the market with regular Studebakers and luxury Packards. The Packard name and reputation had been waning for a long time, ever since the 1930s and '40s when the company introduced low-priced, smaller cars to bring new buyers into the brand. After 1956, Packard ran out of cash for new models. In their final two years, Packards were chromed-out Studebakers with a few visual changes using fiberglass and/or leftover parts. Buyers weren't fooled. By 1958 the writing was on the wall and Packard was doomed.

The last Packards were things like this, a Studebaker Golden Hawk with a fiberglass catfish snout and a supercharged 289 cubic inch V8 producing 275 horsepower. Those were big numbers for the time, and it could almost outrun the ugly. Speed wasn't enough to outrun fate as prospective buyers ran the other way, deterred by its fish face, Studebaker platform and impending orphan status. Only 588 Packard Hawk coupes found owners.

Today the Hawk is rarer than ever before, with good examples few and far between. Parts are very hard to find to restore cars like this one, which is rough around the edges. Maybe the door trim can be sourced from a Studebaker, but where are you going to find another fiberglass nose? And the unique Hawk badges are all missing, as is the PACKARD lettering from the front. I'm not sure what's going on with the giant spiderwebbed bullet hole in the windshield. It kind of looks like a decal. As '58 Hawks go, this one can be described as either subtle or bland. Most of these cars appear to have come from the factory with a gold or silver metallic coating inside the tail fin cove, and a little more chrome trim. The Studebaker on which it was based was a handsome enough car and should have been a fine starting point if the styling budget had been higher. The luxurious Packard gained such novel items as padded arm rests ... on the outside. Literally, the arm rests sit on top of the doors exposed to the elements. Only one is left on this car, a feature I didn't even notice until the owner pointed it out when he saw me photographing his cars. The body is in decent condition, making a restoration fairly simple apart from the rare and unique Packard-only pieces that are probably long gone. A source on the Antique Automobile Club of America forum says that as of 2008 there were 249 confirmed Hawks left. So restoration candidates like this one are still out there and a few parts cars likely as well.

The owner of this car is a bit like the collector I like to refer to as "Fifties Guy". He owns a bunch of eclectic 1950s and 1960s cars that are in fair to good condition and driven regularly. He also owns the '56 Packard Patrician I featured a couple of years ago, the last "real" Packard. This Packardbaker is one I'd been wanting to find for a long time.

2 comments:

  1. You're right, that is one ugly car. But it isn't original. The snout appears to have been slightly "modified" or bondoed, or something. While the original is certainly a matter of taste, it didn't look THAT bad.

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  2. The reason the front looks odd is for two reasons. Firstly, the front has sustained some kind of damage on the top driver's side that has been repaired poorly. That's probably why the P-A-C-K-A-R-D lettering on the nose is missing. The car is also missing the end caps on the front bumper that wrap around the side of the snout.

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